Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chapter Ninety

Chapter 90

April 10th – Today was beautiful. I tried to take Rand’s advice and just “let go” of it for a little while; “it” being an increasing paranoia that somehow something had been set in motion at the trial and hanging that was going to have very long term consequences. Of course “it” may have be been put in motion even before that; my choice to confront certain people, develop a certain reputation, etc. But if you want to go back even further than that my choice to leave Tampa, my choice to … this is ridiculous; Rand is right, when do I let someone else take responsibility for their share of what has happened and just accept that some things happen for a reason beyond my understanding and control.

Pastor Ken did something funny the other day. He had up all raise our right hand and recite, "I do solemnly swear that I hereby abdicate my position as governor of the universe and will let go and let God do His job without any further interference." It was just so funny, though I suppose you had to be there to really get it.

So, to begin again, today was beautiful. It really was and I almost missed how beautiful things have been. The last of the dogwood blossoms are leaving the trees. The redbuds are almost all greened over. And the azalea bushes are all bloomed out for the season. The bright yellow Jessamine is also passed its peak. I missed paying attention to the camellias completely with my head stuck in the worry bucket.

But I won’t miss the daylilies and African irises because they are full of buds that are absolutely dying to be noticed. The plumbago looks like it is going to bloom late this year so I won’t miss it either. And the warm rains we’ve been having have really got the Mexican heather seeking notice. There’s other stuff, mostly what folks would consider weeds but it’s still pretty … when you bother to stop working long enough to look. God gave us this stuff to look at and enjoy. How awful it must feel to use His great Majesty to build us this world and we just ignore it.

At Sparkleberry Ranch I might very well be the only one that did stop to look today. The men were over and cutting the wheat. I thought they were going to harvest it today, as in thresh it and the whole nine yards but Clyde only laughed at me. He doesn’t know me very well do he. Rand, Brendon, and the boys were watching me all day and had just started to relax when I struck … but that was later.

First they had to wait until all the dew was dried up on the wheat. Rand explain that if you didn’t you were just asking for trouble in the form of mold and other stuff that would ruin all of your hard work. While they did that they worked a bit on the horse-powered incline. Rand had gotten the thing months ago and has, by bits and pieces, rebuilt it. The only thing left to do was mend the “belt” that the animals would walk on that would turn the gears. The gears in turn will act as a power source for the large grain mill that Rand and Mr. Coffey’s son built together.

They didn’t work on it too long because just as soon as it was time they hurried out to the binder machine that Rand had already put back together. The binder was drawn by Bud and Lou. If the mules had been any smaller they would have needed a larger team but Bud and Lou were bred for this kind of work. Rand said this is how they did it back in the 1920s. As the binder was drawn down the field it would cut the stalks of grain and gather them into bundles. The bundles were then gathered into windrows to finish drying. The binder that Rand had wasn’t an automatic binder, what it did was it bundled the wheat and then a man could bind it with string at the end of the process. It was more manual labor but at the same time it meant that they could use whatever string was on hand and didn’t have to stick to what would fit in a machine feeder.

All of the grain was ready to cut. I asked Rand how he knew and he showed me that with the wheat, when the grain head was turning golden and the kernel was hard, but could still be dented with your thumbnail, it was ready. The oats, rye, barley and triticale were ready too according to Clyde who ought to know since he in his forestry post did a lot of side work with the extension office up here. Rand said with the good, sunny weather we’ve been having it won’t take long for the grain to completely cure … get too hard to dent with your thumbnail in the case of the wheat … and then they’ll be able to use the other machine thresh it.

Rand says it won't be long 'til they’ll be able to thresh the wheat and the other grains as well hopefully. After all of the grain fields were cut and bound into bundles, they stopped long enough to eat a decent meal. After that and a few minutes to let their stomachs settle they headed back out and stacked the bundles. They’d take from eight to ten of the bundles and stack them together into a shock, similar to what I had done with the corn to let it dry in the field. They’ve left the shocks in the field but it is going to be guarded so I’ll be feeding extra mouths at every meal for at least a week. I don’t mind it because Rand seems to be happy.

Tonight Rand and Brendon are on guard. Clyde had to go home and change. See, I was still stewing a bit about his laughing at me. I know I’m a bit of a city girl still. I have good commonsense and if just given a moment or a reasonable explanation I can figure things out. I rarely have to ask more than once. After laughing at me a bit Clyde went way out of his way to over explain stuff to me. I thought he was just being nice at first, maybe even thought I was a bit simple or something, but then I saw Brendon and Rand making a face like they were waiting for the explosion and caught Clyde smirking when he turned away. Uh uh, you know I couldn’t leave that unchallenged.

As the day wore on it got pretty warm. Didn’t help that I spiked Clyde’s greens with a little extra flavor. He likes things spicy so I helped him along by encouraging him to try my jalapeno peppers and the like. Clyde didn’t act like he had much sense in the matter. He couldn’t resist the challenge. Melly is just such a pushover that Clyde was getting a little big for his britches. She bows to his every wish. Now I try and cooperate with Rand as much as possible but Rand never takes that for granted and never … well usually not ever … does he get over the top with the chauvinism. Like Momma always said, “in the right doses chauvinism can wonderful, but too much will ruin your whole day.”

Clyde was getting pretty warm. And I was just egging him on to the point that Rand and Brendon both caught on. Then Ram shows up. He knew right away what was going on and he knows he owes me for getting Rand involved in his latest scheme. So he cooperated just a tad. Ram’s stomach is made of cast iron and so is his tongue. He’s never met a pepper yet that he hasn’t made friends with. I’ve seen him pop those little Thai peppers like candy on a bet. Well, I had some of those Thai peppers pickled in a jar in the pantry. All it takes is a dash to season something on the warm side. Ram ate a whole pepper and then Clyde ate one.

I nearly laughed out loud but I suppose I have to give to Clyde, he didn’t lose his composure … at least not then. Then Ram ate another pepper telling me they were some of the best he’d ever had. Clyde followed suit and you could tell he was getting down right uncomfortable. Ram popped a third one and gave me the eye like “this better work little sister cause I’m about done in myself.” Well, Clyde let his swagger override his commonsense and when he took that third one and chewed it up he got fired up ... literally.

Rand told me I was laughing so hard he thought I was going to go into premature labor. Clyde drank everything on the table and was still burning up so Rand, doing his own bit of laughing, pushed him over to the laundry area and pulled the handle that dumped my cold water all over him. I laughed until I couldn't stand to laugh any more.

“My Gawd Rand! She’s nothing but pure vinegar,” Clyde wheezed still trying to get his breath back.

Rand, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes and trying to avoid Ram, Brendon, and the boys that were rolling on the ground still laughing their heads off said, “Hey man, I tried to warn you.”

Clyde is a good guy, he was eventually able to laugh at himself. “Anyone ever wants to go up agin’ you girl I’m gonna make for dang sure I’m on your side.”

April 11th – I don’t mind the company but it makes me feel more self-conscious. I fixed fried grits and sausage with biscuits for breakfast and had Austin take plates out to Rand and Brendon. About twenty minutes after he left I heard two rife shots then what I thought was screaming. It like to have scared me to death because I wasn’t expecting the noise. It also brought visions of raiders. I grab my rifle and stumble out the door when Austin comes tearing back home yelling, “Momma get inside!” He was dragging Woofer with him and Woofer didn’t want to come in the house.

“Brendon only knicked an old razorback and he is bad sick. Rand said he looks like he has psuedorabies and they are trying to get him before he can get near the livestock. Where’s Fraidy?”

“In … in the house with the kittens.”

“Phew. Rand said people can’t get it but livestock and other animals can and they’ll spread it all over.”

It was a second before I replayed what he said and realized he’d called me “Momma.” We realized what he said at the same time. He grabbed me around the waist and said, “Please don’t be mad.”

I hugged him and said, “Of course I’m not mad.”

“Can I? Just every once in a while? I’m trying it out to see if it sticks.”

I couldn’t help but laugh and my belly jumped knocking into him. “You’re what?”

“I asked Rand and he said I could do it in my head to see if I like calling you and Rand like you were my parents and stuff. You sure you ain’t mad?”

“Ain’t isn’t proper grammar. And yes, I’m sure I’m not mad.”

“Some of the boys at church said you might not like it because it would make you feel old to have a son my age.”

“Well, you can tell those boys at church that it is none of their business what makes me feel old and what doesn’t but that for a fact I … I love you Austin and I meant it when I said that you could have a home with us for as long as you wanted.”

“Even if that is forever and ever?”

“Even if that is forever and ever.”

I got a gap-toothed grin where he’s lost another molar and that’s when we heard a third and fourth shot. A minute later Brendon came down the road say, “We got it. Wasn’t psuedorabies. Looks like somebody put an arrow in him but didn’t bring him down. Massive infection, wouldn’t have lived much longer anyway. Can’t take a risk with the meat though, might be infection in the blood. Austin? Rand says to get the two round shovels and bring ‘em on so we can get that porker underground before he starts stinking.”

That wasn’t the only excitement of the day. The potatoes were ready to dig and I surprised Brendon with a twenty pound bag to take home. And for dinner I fixed Rand and Clyde baked potatoes, ham slices, mixed peas and carrots, and cornbread muffins. I tell you I hadn’t realized how much I’d been missing baked potatoes. We’re going to have to be careful though because I have to save some back for planting next season and I’m not quite sure how to do it. I should ask Momma O but not until I have enough to share with her. It wouldn’t be fair to ask and not share, especially the way things are these days.

In addition to the potatoes that Austin helped me dig up the first heads of cabbage were ready and so were the big red hamburger onions. I started a crock of saur kraut and tried to fix a pot of cabbage for dinner but the smell made me heave so bad Clyde finished it up for me. Rand asked me to go lay down for a while and I did just to humor him but I slept away three hours of the day before I realized it. The only reason I woke up was because I had to go to the bathroom so badly.

When I did wake up I felt a lot better and even Clyde said my color was better. I caught him and Rand talking and then they’d stop so I figure they’re whispering about me. I’d like to know what it is about. When Rand starts worrying my life gets complicated.

April 12th – I don’t know what makes my ankles swell worse, being on my feet all day or sitting down. The sewing was backing up so since the boys came over and were helping Rand guard the grain shocks they also helped in the garden. I’ve got stuff sitting in the cooler to do but I’ll get to it tomorrow.

Gee, I’m saying that a lot lately … “I’ll just have to get to it tomorrow.” Ugh. Seems I’ve slowed way down. When I complain about it Rand gives me a kiss and says “it’s natural.” I don’t care if it is natural or not, I don’t like not being able to bend over and get the chicken eggs or help with the animals. I don’t like being so fat I can’t see to hoe what is right down by my feet.

I did manage to fix the rip in the Austin’s sheets. They are getting a little thin in places and Woofer jumped on the bed and that was all she wrote. Not the end of the world but it makes me wonder what we’ll do when we go through the last of the large cotton sheet material I have. It also reminds me I need to go through all of my linens to make sure nothing is dry rotting or mildewing in this weather we’ve been having.

April 13th – Spent the day cleaning and canning which means that I’m nearly spent. Rand sent word back to his Uncle that the grain will be ready for threshing tomorrow. Just in time too because tomorrow is baking day and I need to finish up things to take to the Swap Meet. I finished the pre-orders for Missy yesterday, getting fewer of them lately, but I’m getting more orders for the mixes.

Something I’m trying this time is Taco Rice Mix. I take one cup long grain brown rice or white rice, two teaspoons chili powder, one half teaspoon salt, one quarter teaspoon each oregano & cumin & garlic powder, two tablespoons dry onion, one half cup of tomato powder, and Dash red pepper flakes. This comes with instructions to mix it with two tablespoons of oil and three cups of water.

Another thing that I’m giving a try, at least temporarily are spice mixes. I’ve got a lot of big containers of seasonings that are open from where Aunt Wilma used to go a little nuts at the online spice market. I’ve also got all these little containers of herbs and spices that came from the houses that were salvaged. And I’ve got all of my herbs that I’ve been growing and drying. I made several different varieties and put them in jelly jars and Missy can barter them by the scoopful. Cajun Blackened Seasoning, Fajita Seasoning, Colonel Sanders Chicken Seasoning, homemade chili powder, jerk seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, I made a case of twelve different seasonings and I hope they do well.

But for now I’m very tired and I’m just gonna go to sleep and let Rand lock things down and spend the night with … I think Brendon is out there again.

April 14th – Threshing day was amazing. Each acre of wheat yielded about 35 bushels of wheat and Rand said that was excellent. We have to save back about two bushels for each acre we want to plan next season but that still leaves 33 bushels per acre and we had five acres of wheat. Each bushel weighs sixty pounds, multiply that out by thirty-three bushels and that means we’ve realized 1980 pounds of wheat per acre times five acres equals just under ten thousand pounds of wheat for this crop. The family has agreed to split it 60/40 since Brendon (and poor Jonathon) helped Rand to do the major work of planting and cultivating. So for us that means that we are going to keep and store roughly six thousand pounds of wheat (100 bushels) not including the seed wheat for next year’s crop.

From what Rand has said, a bushel of wheat will yield roughly 42 commercial loaves of bread or forty-two 1.5 pound loaves. One acre of wheat would be more than sufficient to bake our bread for the year which means then we have some for feed and some for trading. Rand and I sat and talked about it tonight. We are going to give a bushel of wheat to Mrs. Withrow and two bushels to Momma O; we are also going to set back some seed wheat for them for next year. Mrs. Withrow doesn’t have any family to look after her and she’s done so much for us. We know people do look out for her needs but we want to make the firm commitment to do so as well.

What Uncle George and the rest of the family does with their share of the wheat crop is up to them. I know that Clyde is getting a piece of theirs and Ron is as well, but he is putting his back in with the Crenshaw clan since he is living under the roof there. Rand told me that Brendon said that it is just too weird. Ron is “blooming” under Uncle George’s attention. Seems Mr. Harbinger always praised the wrong thing with his sons and now that Ron is getting the right kind of feed back he is getting more and more comfortable in the new skin he decided to try on after his brother died. Every once in a while he goes off on his own and that is usually when the guilt over Julia starts eating at him. It is an open secret that Ron didn’t love Julia but was trying to do the right thing. It might have worked in the long run but they didn’t have time to completely figure out how to change their expectations and live with the way things were. Ron is thinking of reopening the fields that belonged to his now dead father in law and cultivate them for his son’s inheritance. I’ve got enough on my plate without trying to figure out how that is going to work out in the long term.

The oats yielded roughly the same number of bushels as the wheat but there are only 32 pounds per bushel for oats. We had five acres of oats planted and we agreed to the same 60/40 split. The little bit of barley we planted (just one acre of the stuff) only yielded 20 bushels but that is more than enough for our needs since it isn’t like Rand is going to use it for beer or moonshine. Triticale was the big producer per acre at 45 bushels. We had six acres in that and Rand got all excited because the triticale is a wheat/rye cross and is used as feed. Uncle George was surprised as all get out that we did so well with it but Rand thinks we can do even better with all the grains next year by rotating them and by figuring out a way to irrigate them. Mr. Coffey and his son have some ideas but that is going to have to wait until after harvest season.

Now Rye we had 15 acres planted and averaged 40 bushels per acre. Each bushel was 56 pounds. In other words we’ve got more rye than we know what to do with on a personal level so after holding back the seed wheat and we agreed that five of the acres we would split 60/40 as with the other small grains but the remaining ten was ours to keep completely and Rand and Ram have been putting their heads together and figure they should be able to get a really good trade for the stuff further south or even in the port cities.

Ram said that a cannery has started up in Plant City; it is apparently an old LDS location. If we can trade some of the product for the cans and oxygen absorbers then I can restock all of the cans that we used that my parents had left and that would mean that we could build up a nice insurance policy against a failed crop or any number of things like that.

I haven’t even gotten to how dancing around happy the men were with the straw that each grain left behind after it was threshed. The threshing machine was something to behold. Rand had it set up so that it was powered by a steam engine. The steam engine burned those little briquette things that he and Mr. Coffey’s son have gone into shares to build and produce. And I have to say it is one of the first times I’ve seen Uncle George at a complete loss for words.

The machine is big and noisy and I just about can’t stand to be around when it is going. It makes me nervous not to be able to understand what people are saying. What you do first is you load shocks of wheat into a hopper kind of thing in the thresher. Then these gears inside the thresher beat the shocks to separate the kernels of grain from the stalk. Conveyor belts carry the stalks and wheat berries through the machine. Slots in the conveyor belts let the wheat kernels fall into a hopper below the thresher. The stalks are then dumped out of the thresher at the end of the conveyor belt and then gets a name change to straw. Like I said, the quality of the straw coming out of the thresher is very high quality and can be used for animal bedding and lots of other things. I’m going to take some of it and try and weave it into things like floor mats, hats, placemats, and baskets of different sizes. There’s a trick to it but I remember hearing Momma O mention something about weaving pine needles so surely if she can do that she can teach me to weave straw.

Once the straw is removed from the kernels and auger moves the grain from the lower hopper to another sifting area in the machine. This second sifting blows most of the remaining dust and small particles out and you are left with fairly clean grain for storage which is then pulled up by another auger, out a spout and into a waiting wagon that takes the grain to storage.

Mr. Henderson and some of his men came around to watch and I swear I saw some of those grown men with tears in their eyes. I guess it is a sign that we really can make it on our own without outside help so long as people in the community pull together.

Tomorrow is Swap Meet Day and we are going. I’m kinda looking forward to it since it seems like forever since I’ve been to one. Rand is bringing me a folding chair just in case I get to where I can get around in the crowds. He has the “look” on his face. I mean, I know I’m a little wore out but aren’t we all? I’m feeling mostly OK. Ugh, here he comes with my nightly warm milk. I suppose some girls would eat this being coddled up all to pieces but it just feels so weird to me.

April 15th – Swap Meet today. Lots of good but lots to think about as well. I had more than one person look at me kind of funny. I know I’m getting big but there’s no reason for them to think I’m going to have the baby at any second. I’m not even thirty weeks along yet for goodness sake.

Got there early and got a parking space … well a wagon space … close up. Rand remember the little steps this time but they are wobbly so someone still has to help me get down. Got smart this time and brought the little garden wagon to haul stuff around with. Brought a small bag of all the grains to trade with and we almost couldn’t get back to Missy and Bill’s area because people kept stopping us to ask what was in the bags. Maybe it was a mistake, I’m not sure.

We weren’t the only ones to plant rye by any stretch but we have the only threshing machine in the county … maybe in the tri-county area. Before we left Rand had agreed to three stations … two in Suwannee county and one over in Columbia. It makes me a little uncomfortable but Mr. Henderson has agreed to provide security for a cut of what Rand takes in shares. We’ll take it in grain and straw rather than just grain since we already have so much. Oh sure, he could ask for more grain but Rand said he is building goodwill. Give people time to build up their crop and since they know you’ll be fair they’ll look to your business against next time around.

Had a man from north of us … he was here visiting with his sister … and he traded rye, wheat, and triticale for alfalfa, clover, cotton seed, flax, millet, rape, and vetch. The cotton will go with what we’ve already planted and we aren’t worried about it considering how well it is growing. The other stuff we’ll just have to wait and see. It will take a couple of seasons to growing enough to finally have something worth talking about but it fits into Rand’s longer term plans to be a self-sufficient operation and it will also allow us to keep more animals … beef cows as well as dairy, enough chickens that we can have the meat more than just every once in a while if that, keep more pigs, goats, and fowl too.

Speaking of farm animals, we might be getting some domestic turkeys. I’ve always heard they are some of the dumbest creatures walking the face of this earth … not the wild ones, they’re supposed to be sneaky smart … but Rand said you could say that about chickens too. I don’t know, some of those chickens look like they are planning to take over the world if given have a chance; they just have the funny look in their eye especially when they catch you raiding their nest. Rand thinks he wants to try his hand at rabbit and quail too. Well, we’ve got both out in the shrubbery and we don’t have to feed them but he’s talking about domesticated versions. I don’t know … quail maybe because I’ve gotten where I like the birds we keep but rabbits look evil to me.

I know that sounds stupid but when I was little I was bitten by a rabbit and they are a lot more cantankerous than their appearance would suggest. Austin said he thought rabbits were cute and would be fun to raise. I told him, only half joking, that if he wanted more pets to take care of a worm farm would be more helpful and fewer problems. For some reason that suggestion didn’t go over as well as I thought and I got a major eye roll for Austin and Rand.

The spice blend and the taco rice mix were both big hits. People keep asking for the recipes and Missy hates giving them out. She said, “Normally I’d love to help folks out but doing this always makes me feel like I’m creating built in obsolescence for the Trade Shack. If we give away all the secrets what use will they have for us down the road?” I suppose I can understand it, but I’d rather do that than stand back and have people resent the role you play in the short term when they feel like they are suffering under a monopoly or something like that. It reminds me of the “goodwill” that Rand said he is trying to build up … it’s good for people in the here and now and you hope people will remember it later.

I did pretty well on some trades. I was nervous about a couple of them because Rand wasn’t around – he was off talking with a bunch of men about threshing – but I guess I need to accept that if I’m going to be in charge of the kitchen that means I’ve got to be in charge of other things too. I saw Ram and asked how his family was and he smiled enough to add wattage to the already bright mid-day sun. I think this is the most content I’ve ever seen Ram in all the time I’ve known him. I asked him if he’d seen anything in particular at the tables – the crowd was huge and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wade into it without good reason – and he told me of a couple that really caught my curiosity.

First table I went to had, among other things, sunflower seeds for sale; not the kind you eat but the kind you plant. I’d planted a couple but something had got a hold of mine and cut them off at the base to get at the bloom … probably a raccoon or rat … so I picked up some new seeds to start real quick and I’m going to plant them inside the fence this time.

Another table had garlic bulbs and Walking onion sets. The garlic would go a long way towards helping me fill in some gaps in my herb garden and the Walking onions – I guess some folks know them by their proper name of Egyptian onions – will mean that I’ll have new onion plants every year without having to start from seed which can be a real pain for everything except bunching onions.

Found a couple of more needles for the treadle machine which really made my day. I bent one last week and trying to straighten it I actually broke it. I cried when I did it and had a hard time explaining to Rand why I was so upset. He understood, just didn’t understand the crying part.

I wore the moccasins that Rand made for me and boy was I grateful. My ankles and legs really swelled up from being on them so much and because it was so warm today. I’m actually sitting here with my feet up now trying to get them to finish going down. Hope they go down before tomorrow. Having toes that look like little sausages is a total turn off.

April 16th – No church service today, just a quiet day sitting around the house being a lump … except for taking care of the animals, feeding the guys, getting the horn worms off of my tomato plants and throwing the jar full into the chickens and experiencing manic glee as the disgusting things added protein to my feather heads’ diet.

April 17th – Feeling a little sad today for some reason. Had a dream about my old life and realized it is just a year since I left Tampa on my own two feet. Doubt I could make the trip today. I look in the mirror and I’m hardly the same girl I was. I thought all the innocence had been rubbed off of me by the death of my family. I had no idea how much I had left to lose … or to gain. I love Rand. Love him, love him, love him.

OK, obviously I’m having a momentary fit of schizophrenia. First I’m up then I’m down then I’m up again. Is this what they call the moodiness of pregnancy? No wonder Rand gives me funny looks every once in a while. Poor guy.

Rand was gone with the thresher today, he took Austin with him and Ron Harbinger came to help out as well. Ron has lost a lot of weight. I almost didn’t recognize him. Rand said he is better than he was. I haven’t seen him in a while so he must have been really bad. Hope he can wrap his head around his troubles and work through them.

When the guys got home they were starved. They were supposed to be fed by the group that “hired” the thresher for the day but it was puny fare compared to what they are used to eating. It was nothing but a then gravy over rice with a small piece of cornbread. If I had known that I would have sent a basket along for them to eat out of. You can’t work that hard and then eat next to nothing, you’ll get sick. I made Ron stay and eat too and after some encouragement and a few bites he really dug into his plate of greens, cornbread, hog jowl, and hoppin’ John over rice.

I’m off to bed now that the dinner dishes are finished. Rand and Austin were practically falling asleep on their feet after the animals were taken care of for the evening. I told them to stop pretending that they were awake and it took them both a few minutes to catch on, that’s how tired they were. And now that I’m sitting I’m getting tired myself and the quiet house is making me kind of sad again. I’m off to bed before these stupid pregnancy hormones embarrass me by making me cry.

April 18th – Yay! I feel normal today. I know that sounds just about stupid but yesterday I can’t tell you what was wrong. Up and down and up and down and up and down … it felt like I was on a teeter totter. Today I’ve been much more balanced. Which was a good thing.

I was just cover the last seed in the new row of bush beans that I got into the ground when who should show up but Momma O and Mrs. Withrow. I was surprised and more than a little embarrassed to be found sweaty and barefoot like that. I asked the ladies to have a seat in the shade of the porch, brought out some cold, sweet tea, and begged their pardon just long enough to run inside and wash up a little bit. When they saw that I had changed clothes they scolded me a bit for fussing over my appearance just because they were around but I couldn’t help it.

I had a nice visit and the long and the short of it was they wanted to know how I was feeling and if there was anything that Rand and I needed for the baby. I told them I thought we were doing pretty well all things considered, certainly better than some stories that I had been hearing. I explained that Rand had kind of “planned ahead” when we were salvaging and they both smiled like he was the smartest man they knew. I have to admit I’m fairly partial to him as well.

But they did bring up something that I need to do. I really need to go through everything for the baby and make double sure everything is ready. I also overheard them telling Rand something that I probably wasn’t supposed to hear. A young woman that had recently started coming to our church services died giving birth to a little boy. The baby lived but isn’t thriving and most likely won’t make it either.

I try and not think too hard about something like that happening; me not making it or the baby not making it or both. But the truth is I need to think about it. What will Rand do if something happens to me and he has a baby and Austin to take care of plus Sparkleberry Ranch and everything else? He’s been kind of cranky attentive tonight; snapping at me for working too hard or being on my feet too much, not eating enough or not eating more of the healthy stuff. Then he’ll turn around and practically smother me with sweetness. I know he is worried but all I can do is ultimately prove that God is watching out for us and just … live … the baby too.

But, on the other hand, just in case … I’m making the baby a memory book. I don’t feel like rewriting everything here and it is just something personal for the baby to have just in case. I also need to make sure that I do everything I can to have other stuff prepared … mixes, canned and dried foods, convenience foods, etc. so that … well … just in case. If there is some way I need to find the Judge and talk to him privately and make sure that no one can turn around and take Sparkleberry Ranch away from Rand if something happens to me. I want to make sure that people know what my wishes are.

What a way to end the day. But I have to be practical.

Chapter Eighty-Nine

Chapter 89

April 3rd – I didn’t feel like writing yesterday, I was simply too overwhelmed. Geez, listen to me. I sound like that what’s-her-name … Scarlet O’Hara in that movie Gone With the Wind. “I can’t think about that right now. If I do I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Oh please, I’m not normally this much of a drama queen but witnessing what I did yesterday was just too much.

I made some bad assumptions. I left it up to others after I’d done my part. I thought that doing my part was enough, that I’d finally acted enough that the problem would go away or at least no longer threaten Rand and I personally. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Yesterday morning Mr. Henderson rode up with Mitch and Hoss and asked to speak with Rand and I together; Austin as well since he was a witness despite still being a young boy. SueLinda and that other woman … Cali something or other … had been turned over to the military for their crimes. Unfortunately on Sunday morning they were being released because some blood sucking lawyer had proved that the military didn’t have any jurisdiction over them in this particular case.

A citizens’ group … basically a glorified posse … captured them just beyond sight of the military compound and brought them to Mr. Henderson to ship them out of town to get rid of the problem since the military wouldn’t. Mr. Henderson’s concern with that was that the two women would only hook back up with the criminal element and come back to haunt us all at a later date.

Mr. Henderson wanted to know whether I would agree to appear before a community trial and accept whatever was decided rather than seek my own revenge against SueLinda. I looked at Rand who had a very hard expression on his face.

“Rand? I … I didn’t plan this .. I …”

“I know Babe. SueLinda did this, now she can sleep in the bed she’s made for herself.”

So that’s how we all wound up spending the rest of the day outside of what is left of City Hall and the old County Jailhouse. The trial such as it was didn’t last but two hours. One hour and fifty minutes was all of the testimony regarding SueLinda’s activities, her threats against the community in general and Rand and I in particular, and how even under the current circumstances she continued to make death threats to anyone aiding and abetting their jailers. The other ten minutes were spent by the jury trying to write up an official sounding verdict and figuring out who was supposed to read it to the court.

It’s not that I hadn’t expected SueLinda to be found guilty; what I hadn’t expected was how swiftly “justice” would be carried out. Every time I think of it I want to lose my lunch. I’m pretty sure that SueLinda and that other woman didn’t expect it either. They were screaming and hollering right up to the bitter end. Within thirty minutes of the verdict being read they were swinging from the limb of an old oak tree that had grown from the acorn of another oak that had been used for that same purpose a hundred years before. The other woman died immediately. SueLinda took a while because her neck hadn’t snapped as it was supposed to have done.

Rand took us home; I walked in the house, laid down and pulled the covers over my head. A few minutes later Rand came in and lay down beside me and held me while I cried like a baby. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“I know Babe. I know. But it had to be done.”

I sat up, “Had to?! What’s this had to stuff?! People chose to do this. I never thought I’d see someone hung in my life Rand. That’s Old West stuff reserved for horse thieves, bank robbers, and murderers for crying out loud. I can’t believe I was a part of this.”

“And what? How did you think this was going to end? Life in prison? Who would be the jailers? Who would support that system? Where would the jail be?”

“I … I …”

“Babe, look at me. SueLinda had a choice and she made it. We as a community could not allow her actions to go unanswered.”

“But look at all the things I’ve done Rand. Am I going to find myself swinging from that tree one day?!”

“No!! No. You … look at me Babe … self defense is completely different from what SueLinda was punished for. You know it. I know you still feel guilty for some of the lives you’ve taken, so do I. But we only did it when we were faced with no other choice, generally because we were facing death ourselves. This is a completely different situation. SueLinda premeditated her actions and they were designed to destroy us. When she couldn’t accomplish what she wanted through the actions of others she finally did the dirty deed herself … and now she’s paid for it.”

He held me and then I asked him more quietly, “Where do we go from here?”

“Us or the community?”


“Well, we just keep doing what we’re doing, harming none unless harmed. Defending ourselves when necessary. We’ve always stayed out of other people’s business and I don’t see that changing. As for the community, hopefully this will get people to think. We’ve got a lot of folks that have just been going along, letting things degenerate into a free for all. We’ve got some people who like it like that. But we’ve also got people in this community that need protection from those that would take advantage of them … widows, orphans, old folks, and the like. All communities need rules to live by, and if you have rules you have to have consequences if those rules get broke.”

“But where does this end? I don’t want to go back to the days where people like Mr. Harbinger rode around on horses telling people what they could and couldn’t do.”

“No one does … well, no one with any sense does. Look Kiri, it didn’t get broke in one day and it isn’t going to get fixed in one day either. Hopefully what happened today was an anomaly. Most people don’t want to hurt other people just for the sake of hurting them. Most people around here don’t steal either. This was just an extreme example of what could go wrong and what our community could be facing here on out. And it might not have been a bad thing for it to happen now. Set the precedent and those refugees that are coming in might think twice before pulling a similar stunt in our community.”

“What about every place else.”

“I can’t deal with that Babe. Every place else is going to have to take care of their own just like we are doing.”

I could barely eat yesterday and what I did manage to eat came right back up when Ram, Clyde, and Bill came over to discuss their so-called business venture.

I heard Austin yell, “Rand! Kiri’s puking again!”

Rand came in, took a look at my face and said, “Bed. Now.”

And that’s where I stayed the rest of the evening. But you can’t hide from life if you plan on living it so I got up this morning and tried to not let the image of the two women swinging in the breeze get to me. Paul came over about lunch time and I overheard him and Rand talking.

“Just wanted you to know they took the bodies down about an hour ago. Some lawyer tried to drag the military back into it but didn’t have any luck because the base commander refuses to get involved with what he calls civilian affairs. The Judge had some people bury the two women out in that field behind where Walmart used to be.”

“Thanks for the letting me know.”

“Gran wants to know how Kiri is. She figures she is taking it pretty hard.”

“And then some. She wants to know where this is going to end.”

“Yeah, Gran has wondered as much herself but I don’t see as any of us were left much choice. They wouldn’t have stopped with your place. They’d just kept on and on.”

I hope that we haven’t taken the first step down a long hard road. What’s that say? The road to hell is paved with good intentions? I’ve felt that way more than a few times over the last year but now I’ve got a baby to think about. This is just my future that is being worked out, but his too.

April 4th – I’ve promised myself not to dwell on the hanging so much. It isn’t healthy. I don’t know that it is any healthier to ignore it but there has to be some middle ground where I can accept it and take precautionary note of what it could mean without it creeping into my nightmares which is what it did last night. I saw Rand and Austin and some little baby all strung up like SueLinda was. Each body had a sign that said “stepped over the line.” I could hear the creaking of the rope against the tree limb. I woke up so upset that even listening to Rand’s snoring couldn’t comfort me. I never did get back to sleep and was up and had breakfast cooking before the guys even had both eyes open. Rand knows it is still bothering me but this is something I’m just going to have to work through on my own this time.

Work has helped. The tomatoes are coming in and since I planted so many we’re going to have an abundance again this year. I also picked the first of the cauliflower, pearl onions, and sweet yellow onions. The pearl onions I pickled and canned. I braided the tops of the yellow onions together and hung them upstairs in the dormer room. I’m going to pull another row of onions tomorrow and slice them up and dry them to make dried chopped onion, dried minced onion, onion powder, and onion salt all of which I’m getting low on.

For dinner tonight I made homemade chips and salsa and bean burritos. The guys were in hog heaven but it didn’t set to well on my stomach. Guess the baby must not like the hot stuff right now. I think I’ll go to bed early and try and rest up. I haven’t felt too good today. Lack of sleep most likely.

April 5th – not lack of sleep. Stupid blood pressure.

April 6th – I’m starting to hate this bed.

April 7th – Free at last. I’m getting down right irritated at this blood pressure stuff. Ken said it was stress related. Who doesn’t have stress these days?! Just so tired all of the time. I can’t even move without running into stuff. You can see me coming around the corner before I even get there. And I’m getting this knarly stretch mark that itches all of the time. I’m putting lotion on it but Missy says that I can forget ever looking like I looked before. I didn’t want to tell her but I was no prize before I got big and fat with this baby.

But even if Ken hadn’t given the all clear I needed to be up and moving today. Tomorrow we plant peanuts and we’ve got family coming over to help. Austin is wound tighter than a top because the boys will be here. Brendon will be here too as will Clyde. Uncle George was going to be here but he’s got gout and is laid up and feeling as miserable as I did from what we hear. I’m sending home some blueberry juice when they go back. Blueberry juice isn’t as good for gout as black cherry juice is supposed to be, but it is worth a try. I looked it up in Momma’s files and Uncle George needs to drink lots of water, cut down on beans, lentils and red meat and raise his intake of dairy. Hopefully that will help. Grout sounds awful. Who wants to have a swollen and sore big toe?!

For the baking today I made several loaves of Irish Soda Bread to go with the beans, tomatoes, greens, fried corn, and venison meat loaf that will be tomorrow’s main meal. For the bread I took rough four cups of flour, one teaspoon of salt, three teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of baking soda, and one quarter cup of sugar and sifted it all together. Then I used a pastry blender to cut in one quarter cup of butter which gave me a very crumbly dough. In another bowl I beat together one egg and on and three quarter cup of buttermilk. Then I stirred the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mixed well.

Once I got it to a decent consistency I turned the dough out onto my floured bread board … nothing fancy, it’s just a cutting board that I use to knead bread on and nothing else. I kneaded the bread for about two minutes or until it was smooth. Then I divided the dough in half and formed each half into a nice round loaf.

I put each round loaf onto a greased cake pan and pressed it down a tad to flatten it out. Then I took a sharp pair of kitchen shears and cut crosses in the top of each loaf about half an inch deep. I baked the loaves for 30 minutes, maybe a tad longer, at 375 F until they were nice and browned. I did this three times so I have six loaves. It used a lot of flour but we’ve been eating so much cornmeal lately that I felt the need to splurge since we were having company.

I am completely ready for bed. We have to get up earlier than normal. Tomorrow looks like it is going to be a long, full day.

April 9th – Was too tired to write last night and haven’t had time today until now. Thank goodness the Lord planned to have at least one day off a week or I can see a lot of people just dropping in their tracks from exhaustion.

Yesterday we planted nearly five acres in peanuts. There were three kinds – runners, Virginias, and Spanish. When I heard how many pounds we were supposed to get from each acre I thought I was hearing things. Rand and the other men claim we should get about two thousand pounds of peanuts per acre. I asked what on earth they expected us to do with all those peanuts and Rand said to think of George Washington Carver. I’m ashamed to say I had to go look that one up.

I wasn’t allowed in the field and it didn’t break my heart at all. The idea of bending to plant all of those little legumes just about gave me a back ache just thinking about it. Each see is planted about two inches deep, one every three or four inches, in rows about three feet apart. In about two weeks, the first "square" of four leaflets will unfold above the peanut field and I’m really anxious to see it. I’m not the only one. Several families are going to be counting on peanut production for everything from a protein sour to oil to animal feed and other stuff beyond. Mr. Coffey said that the meal that is normally made from the pressed peanuts (left over from capturing the oil) can be ground and used by humans as well.

Thirty to forty days after the plants bloom, "pegs" form and enter the soil. The peanut shells and kernels develop and mature during the next 60 to 70 day period. Depending on the variety, 120 to 160 frost free days are required for a good crop.

The noon day meal was a hit but the guys were back at it before I could even finish my own meal and I was left looking at a lot of empty, but dirty, dishes to wash. I was at that until it was time for everyone to leave. I managed to get in a few loads of laundry at the same time but I couldn’t bend over and pick up the blasted laundry basket so I had to carry a few pieces at a time from the rinse tub to the clothes line. I’m going to ask Rand to put a basket onto a rolling table for me when he can find the time. My balance is all out of whack and bending over can lead to some interesting problems.

All three of us went to be tired. Austin nearly fell asleep in his dinner plate and he hasn’t done that in a while. Even Woofer and Fraidy were tired. Fraidy was out hunting moles and Woofer was scaring off the ravens that kept trying to get to the peanuts. Clyde took care of the ravens with some birdshot. All I can hope is that their family doesn’t come looking for them.

The same topic was raised after the church service today only with regard to the friends in low places that SueLinda had. The girls quickly found other “protectors” and moved onto another part of the river much to some men’s chagrin. I don’t think I know anyone that was using their … uh, services … but some men from Columbia county sure got bent out of shape after finding them gone. They reported that the ship was empty and had been scuttled. Looks like the river rats strike again.

I expected to receive some censure from some people but the exact opposite was true. It was like I was being surrounded and protected from something. I didn’t have to wait long to find it out. Straight from the pulpit in Ken’s sermon came the message against treachery, that we had people in our community accused of unrighteous behavior, sending lions to slaughter the innocent. I started wondering what on earth was going on because I’d never heard Ken preach like that. Then I noticed a lot of people nodding like they understood exactly what he was referring to.

“Brothers and sisters, we have had a woman in our midst who admitted with purposeful intent sharing information that she had no business sharing. Her intent was to see others in our midst harmed, even killed, for revenge. She and her common law husband have left this area, going north to find their fortune elsewhere. Let us take this as a warning to gird ourselves against such a temptation we may one day find ourselves facing. Deuteronomy, Hebrews, and Romans all tell us the Lord has said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.’”

He went on like that at length but I had a bad case of acid indigestion by the time it was all over. Momma O and Mrs. Withrow never let me out of their sight during the dinner on the grounds and I was summarily handed over to Rand when it was time to go. He was silent almost all the way home.

“Rand? What … who was Pastor Ken going on about?”

We were turning onto our lane and Rand gave a deep sigh before replying. “SueLinda had been asking around but couldn’t find out anything about our location until she started manipulating Lucretia.”

“Lucretia?! No …. No, no, no. All of this was because …”

Rand pulled on the reins and turned me to look at him, “We are not even going down that road. Lucretia made her choice. She got herself in this fix. You can’t keep getting a complex over this stuff.”

“I’m not getting a complex.” When his eyebrow did a Mr. Spock impression I said, “OK so I’ve got a little complex about this kind of stuff but Rand …”

“No but Rand … period. Babe, let this one go. Just let it go. It’s over.”

I want to believe that but, I really do but something tells me that it’s not going to be that simple.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Eight

Chapter 88

March 30th – The influx of northern refugees has begun to arrive. Rand is really bent out of shape. No, he is more than bent out of shape; he is absolutely furious. But the refugees only play a small part in why he is so bent.

We were working out in the yard when several families crossed into our land jumping the fence to the north of the homesite. They immediately made a beeline for our gardens. That stunt nearly got them killed. The fact that they had young children amongst them saved their bacon-- that and the fact they didn’t make it into the gardens. The fences are strong to keep animals and raiders out they are strong enough to keep out some pathetic refugees, otherwise bloodshed was imminent.

That alone was enough to be upsetting but what came next is what made Rand blow a gasket.

“Hey! What are you shooting at us?! The lady said we’d get food here. Now you give it to us like she said or we’re gonna take it! We haven't eaten in days!”

One of the men began to raise his gun at Rand and I, standing at a back window, fired off a warning shot that puffed the sand right between the blowhard’s feet.

“Throw it away or the next one is gonna turn you from a rooster into a hen!” I yelled out from my secure position.

Rand was still covering the three other men and Austin was armed as well. Finally their stupid cranked back a notch. They threw down their weapons and we were telling the women we weren’t going to shoot ‘em in the back or take their kids when horses came galloping down our lane.

Lucky for us it was just Mitch, Hoss, and Bradley. They’d been coming to discuss business with Rand when they’d heard the shooting and my yelling. At the sight of the men on horseback it was like someone had poured gasoline on an ant hill; the refuges started running in every which direction.

Henderson's men were all confirmed cowboys by this time and rounded up the people even faster than they would have the same number of cattle. They all started squawking at the same and Rand gave one of his piercing whistles to shut them up long enough for Mitch to get a word in edgewise. Additional men from the Henderson Ranch showed up as did Mr. Henderson himself.

It was a circular story that had to be repeated several times before we could make heads or tails of it. They didn’t know the name of the “lady” in question but given where they were when they received the information on Sparkleberry Ranch and the general description of the woman in question there was no doubt in our mind that SueLinda was behind this.

Rand was so angry I was nearly scared of him. It took Mitch and Mr. Henderson to keep him from taking off right then but it wasn’t until I had a little spell and had to sit down that he let go of his fury. I tried to tell him I was fine but in a sense it only deepened his anger, but it did keep it in check.

This whole time the refugees kept trying to justify their actions. Rand finally snarled, “You people ever thought of asking?! I’ve got a family to take care of too you know and my wife has a baby on the way. Had you come looking for work instead of a hand out you might have found what you were looking for. Now all you’ve done is make it less likely that I’d want to help you or anyone like you.” I put my hand on Rand’s arm, concerned because the anger I was seeing was so unlike him. “No Kiri, they can go to the blasted migrant farm and work for a living. They put you and the baby and Austin in danger and I won’t abide that, not for any reason. Henderson! Get them off my land before I do something we’ll all regret.”

Rand was snarling and spitting like a cat by that point; so unlike himself that I was at a loss as to what to do. He slammed his hat down on his head and stalked off to the wood pile and started slamming the big ax so hard into a stump that he’d been cutting up that I thought he was after making us some toothpicks.

Mitch caught me staring and said, “He’ll come around, just give him time.”

I looked at him and whispered, “I’ve … I’ve never seen him like this Mitch. I understand this could have gone badly it but didn’t . I’m usually the one that is all bent out of shape and he’s the one that is calm, cool, and collected.”

“It’s different when a man sees his home under attack. But the truth is Kiri you are getting a peek at the old Rand, the angry young man he was when he was a teenager. There were plenty of times when I pulled him and … and Chase out of stuff and Rand would be just like this. He’s done a lot of growing up Kiri and you’ve done amazing things for him but every once in a while a man’s got a reason to get angry and this is one of those times so the old Rand is coming out. Give him time to cool off. He’ll be fine.”

That wasn’t a lot of comfort but at least it was a little bit of explanation. As for “cooling off” he hasn’t done much of that. He’s trying but he is still really angry. He’s not taking it out on Austin or I – he played a round of checkers with Austin and acted like he was listening to the next chapter of Johnny Tremain that I was reading aloud. But I could tell, even Austin could tell, he was still wound tight. The only reason Rand is asleep now is because he is exhausted. He works from before sun up to after sun down and with the days growing longer that means the hours worked are growing as well.

I understand why Rand is angry I’m just not sure I understand why he is angry the way he is. I can guess and it all goes back to SueLinda. It might make some women jealous, the amount of energy he’s devoted to being angry at this woman, but not me. I’m resentful but of SueLinda, not at Rand. I’m telling you though, if he catches up with her tomorrow, I hope there is someone there to stop him. I’m a little worried that he is so angry that he really will do something he’ll regret.

March 31st – Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I was worried about Rand.

April 1st – Wish I could lay this all at the door of some bad April’s Fool joke but nope, I’ve gone and done it again. The problem is that I’m not real sure I regret it, any of it. I’m tired of being sorry for being me. And I’ll be doggone if I’ll apologize to that hellcat. I hope her face is wrecked for good … well, maybe not, but maybe a little bit I do. I don’t know. I don’t know quite how I feel about it at this point.

Missy came over early in the morning yesterday to discuss some pre-orders and to see about maybe paying me to make some general stock to keep at the Shack. It would be a little bit of speculating on her part but she thinks that she can catch a few more customers with impulse buys.

“If the women could just see what it is that they are pre-ordering that might also help encourage some sales. I can understand the not wanting to buy a pig in a poke. Oh here,” she said bringing in a satchel of material, “I brought more cotton cloth for the bras and under clothes. Some of this stuff is really light weight so maybe you can put some lace around the edges and stuff? Could be used for Sunday wear and the heavier muslin cloth can be used for every day. Hey … where’s Rand off to this time of day? Got another field to mow?”

“No,” I said, glad she had finally stopped talking long enough for me to decide whether to ask her about SueLinda. She’d also given me the perfect opening.

We’d been gossiping for over an hour while we planned out what I could trade at the Shack that would likely bring in the greatest return when I heard wagon wheels coming down our road a little fast. It’s funny, with cars gone wagon wheels are now as distinct as engine noises were. I knew right away that the wagon wasn’t ours … especially since it was sitting in the barn … and I also knew it wasn’t one that I had heard before. It was too quiet and for some reason that disturbed me.

Then I heard Austin try to get a yell out only to have it cut off … and Woofer’s snarl and then yelp. The next sound though sent ice right through me. SueLinda had a snarl to match Woofer’s. “Take it all. I want it all. What we don’t take, destroy it.”

Missy said she made a grab for me but I brushed her off and put my hands on the .357 that I kept in my kitchen. It was loaded with hollow points. It didn’t look as fancy as the one Rand had but Clyde said it was just as powerful and the hollow points are the kind of bullets that make a mess of whatever they hit. Missy grabbed my rifle.

I peeked out the window and saw Austin fighting the woman. She had him around the throat with one arm and her other hand over his mouth. As I watched she turned loose of him just long enough to grab him by the hair and slap him across the face several times before putting him back in the choke hold. I didn’t know what had happened to Woofer, if he had still been mobile he would have already ripped SueLinda’s throat out.

One of the men was heading into the barn and I couldn’t let him. I didn’t see a weapon on SueLinda but a quick thought had me pocketing the .357 into my apron and grabbing the rifle from Missy. She fought me briefly for it but she let go when she saw the look in my eyes. I went into the Great Room, cracked the door, and with a couple of shots took the back of the guy’s head off. It happened so fast. The other man turned, pulling a gun and I put three rounds in his torso. I noticed another women running away and I put a round in her big backside and she went down squalling.

I was gone away in my head. I had had all I was going to take from this woman. “Austin, kick her in the shins and bite her hand. Jam a thumb in her eye if she won’t let go.”

SueLinda was so shocked at what she’d walked into that she didn’t even think to defend herself when Austin followed my instructions to the letter.

Missy later said that I was just about the scariest thing she’s ever seen; strangely she meant it as a compliment. As soon as Austin was clear I raised the rifle and told SueLinda, “You have just used up the last of your nine lives. Isn’t it enough that you bring up bad memories for Rand every time your name is mentioned? You have been in my face and Rand’s face since you showed up around here. You’ve instigated and started rumors. You’ve done your level best to cause problems. Now you sic those poor people on us and when that doesn’t work you have the nerve to show up here, at our home, and just steal what doesn’t belong to you? Are you out of your mind or do you just have a death wish?!”

All she did was snarl at me. For a microsecond I was tempted to send her to her Maker but then I thought of Rand and knew that I had to give him time to resolve this in some other way. But I’ll be doggone if I’m going to stand there and let myself be attacked … even if I wasn’t pregnant. I switched the safety to on, switched the rifle around and swung it like a bat. As she made the move to jump me I caught her a hard crack that apparently broke her cheek bone, her jaw, broke some teeth, and cut that side of her face up pretty good. It also knocked her out cold.

I stood there heaving and then promptly threw up all over my own shoes because I couldn’t seem to move.

Austin was stumbling back under the weight of Woofer; that gave me something to focus on. He was crying … Austin, not Woofer. Woofer was out of it. “They shot him. They shot him.”

“Easy Austin, I don’t see any blood,” I tried to reassure him.

“It was some kind of dart. I pulled it out and brought Woofer home. Can you fix him Kiri?!”

“Austin, calm down. Let’s lay Woofer on the porch. Come on. Now, put your hand on his chest … feel it going up and down? Feel his heart? I think … I think it was just some kind of tranq gun, like animal control used to use … the dog catcher. Why don’t you sit with him and keep him out of the sun. He might be out for a while but I’m sure he’ll be happy to know that you are looking after him. OK?”

When I turned around there was Missy. She couldn’t decide whether to smile or look stern. In the end she just sighed and said, “I tied witchy poo up. You better come up with a good one. Rand is going to go nuclear.”

Oh, nuclear didn’t even come close. He was hollering and bellowing so loud and so fast that I couldn’t even understand half of what he was saying. I’d barely had time to clean my boots up when the thunder of a bunch of hooves came down the lane. The woman that I had shot in the rear end had escaped on us but gotten caught by some of Mr. Henderson’s men and spilled the story. She didn’t care that she was incriminating herself, she just wanted away from the crazy, fat girl that lived down the lane.

And of course Henderson’s men had radioed it in and then Rand got wind of it … and Bill did too which was fun watching Missy get basically the same treatment as I did. However Missy turned the table on Bill and said that if the men in the community wouldn’t spend so much ever loving time watching SueLinda’s girls’ nether regions we wouldn’t be in this situation. Missy is a piece of work. By the time she was through every man there felt guilty whether they had any reason to or not.

Except for Rand. He was still snorting and snarling and I was very tempted to tell him I didn’t feel well … but that would have been an out and out lie. I was feeling better than I had in a while. That doesn’t say much for my character I’m sure but nevertheless it’s true. Instead I stood there and let him wind down.

“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?!”

“Rand, you’re right. SueLinda is a nasty person. The situation was horrible. People could have been hurt. If it hadn’t been as bad as it was I never would have done what I did.”

That shut his mouth so I continued. “I’m standing here because you’ve helped me get to the point where I’m a capable woman. This is our home. Had you been here you would have done what I did … except maybe the bang up side of SueLinda’s head. But you were off trying to prevent the situation from escalating. SueLinda however is unreasonable and chose to make the situation what it is. I knew you would be along shortly and that is what gave me the courage to do what had to be done. You’ve worked too hard, I’ve worked too hard, to get where we are. There comes a time when you have to put up or shut up. You and I have said everything we could to keep SueLinda at bay … she refused. That’s all there is to it.” Then I walked into his arms in front of everyone startling him to no end since he knows public displays make me uncomfortable. “Thank you Rand for teaching me the skills I need to survive and that I am capable of doing what has to be done.”

I got some mumbled response in return but he hugged me back, though it was a kind of sideways hug since my belly is getting in the way of just about all the fun stuff these days.

Rand is still upset. Not at me, just at the entire situation. Austin is better after Ken looked Woofer over. The drug wasn’t long lasting but we have to keep an eye on him a couple of days just to be on the safe side. The boy and dog went to bed early, both of them feeling the effects of too much excitement.

After Austin was asleep Rand worked off his fear by keeping me close and then closer still. It was good for both of us. It was comfort and being comforted, making needed connections that run deeper than words. It was accessing the intimacy that reassured both of us that we were still here, still together, still operating as a team.

Today has been a little trying. Rand has insisted that I relax and not do much. It was a swap meet day but we didn’t attend. I should have done laundry today but Rand said forget it. I had a lot of planting to do today also but Rand put a chair out in the garden and would only let me direct the work, not participate in it.

What I was allowed to do was sit in the shade and prepare the carrots and broccoli that was picked so it could go on the dehydrator. Monday I’ll be canning carrots whether Rand is ready for me to or not. I cannot get behind. In fact I need to get ahead as much as possible because everything I’m hearing about having babies – both the birth part and the raising part – says they are an awful lot of work and take a whole lot of time and attention. That means I’ll have even less time to do the necessary work. But I’m not going to think about that motherhood stuff right now. I’m wiggy enough as it is.

Mitch came by today after the swap meet. Some folks were worried that either I was sick or that we weren’t sure of our reception out in the community and he was the one that got volunteered to do the checking. Rand popped off a little bit and said, “Ask me how much I care whether anyone in the ‘community’ disapproves of the fact that SueLinda got what was coming to her.”

“Easy Rand. You’ve got it wrong. I know for a fact that there are plenty of women that are ready to defend Kiri to anyone that might be stupid enough to say she did anything other than what SueLinda forced her to do. Most of them are saying they would have simply pulled the .357 and put a period to a rabid animal.”

I thought that was taking it a little far and broke in, “Aw Mitch, that’s a bit much. Rabid animals can’t control themselves. SueLinda could have, she simply chose not to.”

“I don’t disagree with you there. I hope you know that brother of yours is three-quarters crazy too.”

“Oh no, what has Ram done now.” I looked over at Rand for support only I caught a look before he was able to hide it. “Rand! What are you and Ram up to?”

Mitch decided that he’d best make a quick exit which told me that whatever it was I wasn’t likely to be enamored of it. “Rand …”

“Easy Kiri. It isn’t that bad.”

“Uh huh.”

“Ram needed a little backing and he’s going to make a few business deals.”

“Uh huh.”

“I took some of those Sand Dollars left over from what Mr. Barnes sent. Gave them to Ram to invest.”

“Uh huh … and …”

“Look, SueLinda is able to attract the business that she does not just because of her ‘girls’ but because she runs a pretty profitable black market operation. Ram is just … instigating a bit and creating some competition.”

“He’s what? And you’re backing him?”

“We are … I know we didn’t discuss it but I had to make the decision quick.”

“Rand, you know I don’t know doodly about the money stuff. I trust you with that … no, don’t go getting all righteously indignant, I’m not in the mood for it and you sure aren’t going to use it to distract me from figuring out what you and Ram are up to.”

“Aw Babe.”

“Don’t ‘aw Babe’ me Rand Joiner. I expect this kind of craziness out of Ram but if that crazy hermano is going to start dragging you into it … all too willingly apparently … I’m gonna at least know what it is and have my say on it.”

At his continued discomfort and the fact that he was taking so long to come up with a story I figured it out for myself and I was NOT happy. “Tell me … oh tell me … that Ram hasn’t talked you into investing in some crazy scheme to take over the black market that SueLinda was operating.”

“We aren’t black marketers, we’re legitimate businessmen.”

“I am going to skin that crazy …”

“Calm down. The only part I’m involved in is as a financial backer. You said you trust me.”

“Of course I trust you so don’t do the puppy dog eyes thing. That’s not what I’m upset about. Rand you and I both know that those river smugglers are nothing to fool with. Not even the military messes with them unless they get out of hand too far inland. I can’t believe that you’d intentionally get involved with something like that! What if they take a mind to weed out of the competition and catch you … you or Ram … out someplace and … deal with you?”

“Babe, I’m not the only backer that Ram has.”

“Who else has he talked into this madness?!”

“Bill, Clyde, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Coffey.”


“Babe, listen to me. Something has to be done. They are beginning to blockade sections of the river making it next to impossible to get things unless you run it overland or pay them for 'protection.' We are doing fine but most people have to trade for what they need. Henderson has run into the problem several times and he’s looking at this as a nonviolent way of dealing with the problem.”

“I don’t think those river smugglers know how to be nonviolent.”

“Be that as it may, let’s give it a try. One way or the other this can’t continue and I’d rather be on the side that makes a difference … and potentially a profit … than on a side that just sits around letting those criminals just take over things.”

So. I’m not sure what to think. I guess we have to give this a try but I have a bad feeling that this is just a stopgap measure than is only going to force the violence to come to a head sooner rather than later.

Chapter Eighty-Seven

Chapter 87

March 25th – It’s been a full week since I last had time to sit down and write anything. If it hasn’t been one thing it’s been another. We have a nasty cold running through the house. Austin came down with it first so more than likely he picked it up from some of the boys at the last swap meet and Rand and I got it a couple of days later. As a matter of fact one of the reasons why I’ve stopped long enough to write is because Pastor Ken came by and basically said either I willingly got off my feet or he would order me off my feet. Rand overheard what he said and that’s all she wrote but only because Rand has learned how to handle me. I know he is handling me and he knows that I know he is handling me and also knows the only reason he can get away with that is because I let him. He gives me the pathetic puppy face. He looks so serious sometimes I can’t help but laugh and give in.

Sunday we took the wagon over to Uncle George’s and visited with them for a little while. Laurabeth was a little overwhelmed and I flat out told her that if it was too much I’d ask Rand to leave early. That seemed to draw her up short and she said, “No. Don’t do that. I just … all the noise and sometimes … someone is always watching me and it makes me feel even crazier than I already am. I understand why they’re doing it but I still don’t like it. I hate being stared at. Having more people do it just makes it worse.”

“So long as you’re sure. I hate being stared at too and understand about that. Look,” I said checking to see if anyone was listening. “Um, you wouldn’t happen to mind me asking you some … um … questions would you?”

“About … about what?”

I finally screwed up my courage and said, “Baby stuff.”

“Baby stuff? You mean like … oh … you mean like taking care of them and things like that?”

Relieved she understood I said, “Yes, please. Alicia seems to be living in her own world and only blushes when she thinks anyone is going to talk about that stuff. Missy … well, you know Missy. She’d answer my questions but then she’d be the one making me blush. I just want to talk to someone that has some common sense and won’t make me feel as dumb as a stump.”

For some reason she thought that was funny and it was the first time in a long time I heard her laugh. It wasn’t much of one but it was definitely a laugh. “Sure. Come into the bedroom and if anyone asks I’ll just say I’m changing Stevie. He needs it anyway. So, what did you want to ask?”

“How do you do … that …feed the baby I mean.”

“Oh. Well, they do most of the work. You just have to be careful they don’t make you raw.” My eyes must have gotten big because she grinned and went into more detail of what she meant. After a while we were comfortable enough that I could ask her how she was doing, really doing.

“there are days when I feel like I’m going to be OK and days that I … don’t. How did you … you know … live after your family died like that?”

I was very careful with my answer. I wanted to be honest but I didn’t want to scare her either. “I had a hard time for a while. People … I didn’t have any family support. My ‘aunt and uncle’ were really my dad’s cousins and did the best they could I suppose but, for me it wasn’t good enough. So I floundered around trying to put one foot in front of the other and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I learned a lot but to be honest, I’m still undoing some of the junk that I tied myself up with. The one thing above all others that has always stuck with me is that …” and it still choked me up to talk about it. “…my parents and brother loved me. They wouldn’t have wanted for me the kind of hell I put myself through. It took a long time for me to see that. Maybe longer because I didn’t have anyone that actually sat me down and explained that to me.”

Laurabeth was looking out the window. “Jonathon loved you. And he was a guy with lots of commonsense. And you know that he’s in Heaven with the baby. I can’t say what your future holds Laurabeth but I know that whatever it is you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jonathon wouldn’t hold you living a good life against you. In fact, that’s exactly what he would have wanted you to do in his memory.”

“Kiri, do you think … I mean … do you think that Ron can say the same thing about … about Julia? He doesn’t show it but I think in some ways he’s … Kiri, sometimes I think the only reason he remembers to breathe is because he has it in his head that he’s going to look after Stevie. And maybe after me too. I think he’s more tortured than … than … I’m scared for him sometimes. He’ll read to me out of the Bible when I’m feeling really bad but it’s like … like he won’t let himself hear the Words or feel the comfort. I’m afraid it is because … he doesn’t think he deserves them.”

Yeah, that gave me lots to think about. After Austin went to bed that night , early because he was tired though we didn’t know he was just starting to get sick too, I talked it over with Rand. I could tell he was listening but at the same time he was thinking that it was just “women talk” and us guessing when it came to Ron’s state of mind.

Next day started the cold for Austin and by the end of the day Rand and I weren’t feeling too chipper either. Cold or not, Sparkleberry Ranch still needed tending. Rand worked around the house laid down when he got too tired. Austin I kept in bed for a few days and he mostly just slept. It gave me time to work at my own pace in the garden and I could tell we were just about to head into a period of some heavy dehydrating and canning going on. Tuesday I planted a bunch more rows of dried beans. Wednesday I got some sewing done but not as much as I wanted to. The treadle just hurt my head too much, I had a bad sinus headache, so I sat out on the front porch and did some mending and crocheted a small lace edge on a sun bonnet for the baby.

Thursday I should have been cleaning the house but I just didn’t feel like being inside. Austin and Rand didn’t either but they, like me, didn’t have a whole lot of energy for things that weren’t absolutely essential. Rand did do some hunting but the game isn’t quite as sparse as it used to be but you can still tell the area has been over hunted. There probably wouldn’t be an edible game animal in the area if bullets weren’t getting scarce enough that people are holding onto the ammo they have.

What I did on Thursday was putter around in my flowers. I planted the caladium bulbs under some of the trees our front of the house. I planted impatiens in the shadiest flower beds on the far side of the house, but off to the side so that the lantana wouldn’t overwhelm them. I sprinkled phlox and gallardia seeds all over the property since they tend to do best when you leave them alone. The marigolds that I had started in the greenhouse got interplanted with rows of growing things out in the garden. And my daylily bed got spruced up and muched.

Friday it was back to serious work since late in the day on Thursday, after I had planted the marigolds, I started harvesting the English peas. Not enough have come in for me to can yet, that’ll be next week, but we had creamed peas for lunch yesterday and it was just right for everyone’s appetite.

Today has been laundry. I still don’t feel one hundred percent but I couldn’t put off washing the sheets or Rand’s and Austin’s work clothes. All three of us also took good baths and scrubbed away what we could of the lingering cold. It is still a little chilly at night and I didn’t want any wet heads to bring the colds back full force.

Tomorrow is a church service Sunday. I debated on going but Rand says he needs to so that he can get his work schedule for the next couple of weeks arranged. We have a lot of our own work to do as well in the coming weeks. We will be planting a large field of peanuts and we hope to harvest all the grains that we planted back in October.

I’m going to wear a new dress to church tomorrow. It might be a really girly thing to do but I just can’t wear a pair of old, unbuttoned overalls and a flannel shirt for people like Momma O and Mrs. Withrow to see. I tried it on tonight thinking I would need to take it in a little on top and doggone if I haven’t grown even more up there. This is ridiculous. I feel like I’ve been taken over by an alien.

March 26th – So much for a calm day. In the middle of Ken’s sermon one of Mr. Henderson’s men came in and said there had been an attack on the military compound. The attack had been repelled but the raiders – or whatever they were – were dispersing into the community. Everyone packed up as quickly as possible and headed back to their places to make sure that nothing happened.

We saw some strangers going by on horses but just because they were strangers didn’t mean they were the raiders. One of them was a very capable looking woman but again, that didn’t necessarily mean that they were raiders. On the other hand we didn’t take any chances. Mitch Peters came along with a few men and “escorted” the strangers out of the area just to make sure they didn’t get waylaid by people getting the wrong idea.

We are all locked up tight and have our bowl of popcorn to enjoy. My kitchen counters are full of things to that need to be dried and canned tomorrow. We’ve learned the hard way not to leave anything in the garden. Gonna be a busy day tomorrow.

March 28th – Yesterday was a nightmare. Just a complete and total nightmare. There was a mouse in my kitchen. I got up and went in there to start breakfast and there was the little beasty sitting on my counter eating my English peas!!! It was horrible. I screamed loud enough to be heard in Columbia County.

After all the ruckus died down Rand nearly fell over laughing. I still don’t think it is very funny but he said it was like one of those “Funniest Home Video” shows. I screamed and they came running and when they got there I was running around the kitchen with a broom yelling, “Kill it! Kill it!!” Woofer had come running too and was knocking over chairs and baskets trying to catch the little evil vermin for me. We made a bigger mess catching the mouse than the mouse had on his own.

I emptied every cabinet and hauled everything out of the kitchen until I realized that the cover had come off the floor drain and that is how the nasty little thing must have gotten in. Evil I tell you. Fraidy is moving back inside and I don’t care what she has to say about it.

Actually she has been a good sport after having a mild conniption after first. We put the kittens in a box in the spare room and since we haven’t bothered them since seems satisfied. Woofer was happy to share his bowl of leftovers with Momma Fraidy, I think he was lonesome for her. I’m not so worried about our little cat family either.

I hope that is the only mouse that has come in. Just to be on the safe side I’ve been sprinkling cayenne pepper seeds and mint and spearmint in all the cabinets.

March 29th – More baby sewing. I felt all mushy while I was doing it. The baby is getting more and more real. I mean he’s been real before now but it seems that as far away as his being born is, it still isn’t time enough for me to get everything done before he gets here.

Rand was gone all day today. He and Austin went to do some mowing and tomorrow they are going to go plow two fields … one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We aren’t the only ones preparing to plant. Mr. Coffey is going to plant a couple of really big fields of peanuts and cut his production of sorghum accordingly. We still have sorghum left over from his last harvest and hopefully it will last us a while longer yet.

I wonder what that is going to do for its trade value at the swap meets? Right now there is plenty if you are willing to trade for it so while it has a high trade value there isn’t any shortage. Next season that could be different depending on how many are growing sorghum for their personal use. I heard on Sunday at the dinner table that the people in their co-op (I’m kind of at a loss what else to call them since the all tend to throw their work together on big projects like this) are going to be planting a big field of it. In addition to the seed heads for people food as well as animal feed, and the stalks for the juice to make syrup with, they were talking about trying to use the remaining biomass in ethanol production. It might not net them much ethanol but they could build a central refrigeration unit or fill a tractor engine.

Rand started our ethanol still up a few days ago. He’s starting with a traditional mash made of corn, yeast … well, all the stuff you’d use to make moonshine. A few more days and we’ll have something … but we’ll have to see if it will actually burn clean enough to operate an engine. One of Rand’s recent acquisitions has been several plastic fuel drums. Once he figures out if this works, he’ll start storing the ethanol first for our own use, then for trade.

Another project that Rand is working on getting the parts for is a biomass briquette production set up. It made my head hurt trying to understand what he was so excited about. Mr. Coffey, his son, and Rand were talking about it before the church service on Sunday. Basically they plan on taking dried biomass … like peanut shells, sawdust, wood chips, soy bean husks, etc. … and then you process and press the stuff into a hollow cylinder using a screw press. The briquettes can then be used to operate a steam engine. The problem is that you have to have fuel to operate the briquette maker that they’ve designed (Mr. Coffey’s son and Rand are going in shares for the parts) which is where the ethanol comes in. After the briquette machine is completely operational then they’ll convert the briquette machine to using the biomass briquettes in a steam engine so it will basically be producing enough briquettes to fuel its own production.

Rand “found” a really old team engine tractor. The old woman just wants someone to help her and her grandchildren out and could care less about the old junk her husband – dead over twenty years – left in the barn. He’s been hauling it home a few parts at a time in exchange for keeping her property mowed and plowing her garden. The tires on this thing are very strange and the overall size of the thing is huge. Rand is going to have to build a pole barn for the tractor alone. When the tractor is up and running Rand says we’ll be sitting on gold. I don’t know about that but it sounds like he won’t have to work so hard and that’s good to me. We don’t get to spend near as much time together as we used to, it makes me a little anxious and sad … and lonesome.

For my part in trying to add to our family’s “wealth” I’ve been drying a bunch of stuff the last week or so; beets, English peas, greens, turnips, and today I harvested several bunches of celery. It has been so long since I’ve had fresh celery that I had a really hard time not eating a whole bunch … literally. There are days that I could just graze from sun up to sun down. I have to be careful though because gaining too much weight with the baby could be just as bad as gaining too little according to Ken. I’ve got a cleaner bill of health than I had before. Blood pressure is all under control and I’m feeling better too.

The one thing I’m not feeling so good about is that Rand brought word that SueLinda’s business isn’t the only unsavory one that is springing up along a certain section of the river. There’s gambling, a few saloon type bars, and a black market warehouse. Because of the goods they have for sale or trade there they are pulling business away from the Trade Shack. Bill and Missy aren’t hurting, they run a legitimate business and provide a real service, but when people start bartering for luxuries they have less to trade for their needs. The military supposedly keep a close eye on what is happening but claim they really don’t have any jurisdiction over them unless they become a threat to the community’s general peace and safety. I suppose that depends on how you look at it and whose yardstick you are using to measure it by.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Six

Chapter 86

March 18th – Well, the swap meet was what it was; some good, some bad. When we got up and got going this morning the road was as bad as we expected it to be. The only place on the road that was bad was right there at the gully but there were a couple of places on the forty that had developed a bad habit of holding water. Rand said he and Austin would dig a couple of them out to see if there was clay underneath and if it was worth trying to dig the clay out, if not they’d haul in some more lime rock.

Our road isn’t the only one in sad shape. A road crew hasn’t been out to do any kind of road repair in well over a year now. Some of the road bed is showing through in places on the county roads and the highways. Of course, explosions and fires haven't exactly helped the conditions of the roads. After a particularly bad stretch I asked Rand to let me out and I would walk. He thought I was joking until he turned around and saw me holding my belly. He got upset and said he should have brought the buggy because at least it had a little bit of suspension but I reminded him that if he made any large purchase there wouldn’t be anything to put it in with the buggy.

Lucky for me the road got a little smoother the closer we got to the swap meet area. There was a bad dip where we had to leave the road but that was it. I still had to make a dash to the outhouses that had been dug. I swear it is just plain embarrassing how often I have to stop and go to the bathroom these days. Missy warned me that is only going to get worse until after the baby is born and everything goes back where it is suppose to. Isn’t that just jolly.

I pulled up and it took me a second to get ready to get out of the wagon. I hid the fact that my side was burning by acting like I was gathering stuff up but I only fooled Austin. Rand leaned over the wagon side and asked quietly, “You OK? You want to …”

“I’m fine. I just feel stupid is all.”

“That isn’t all, you’re hurting again aren’t you.”

Rather than lie I told him, “Some … but it will go away, it always does. Look, that … that SueLinda … she’s not around is she?”

“Why? Oh. Babe, don’t let what she said get to you please … please. I know it’s selfish to ask you to forget about what I did last time I …”

“Rand, that’s already forgotten. I just don’t feel like being embarrassed when she points out how fat I am. I can’t even fit into the overalls anymore and, well, you know what I mean.”

“One, you aren’t fat you’re pregnant. Two, you’re pregnant with my baby. Three, you look dang sexy to me … as a matter of fact if you want to go on home …”

“Now you are just being silly … but thank you. I really don’t know why I care what anyone says, it’s not like it’s ever mattered. I just don’t … I … this is stupid, I just don’t want her to see my big fat behind trying to get out of the wagon again.”

“Aw Babe. Look, I don’t know why I didn’t think about it but next time I’ll figure out some steps or something. But, I like being able to hold you so everyone in the world can see … “

“Rand! What if someone sees?!”

“Let ‘em. We’re married.”

“What is wrong with you?!” I asked him turning bright red as he finally put me on the ground and stood in front of me so I could fix my clothes. I swear lately every time we start talking about my belly he starts thinking about you know what. Missy noticed later in the day and I like to have died; but she only laughed and said Bill was the same way. I asked her if it was pheromones or something scientific like that. She said no, that it was testosterone and guys were just impressed with their fertility or something equally obnoxious. I don’t really mind it I just wish he wouldn’t do it out in public. People already look at me like I’ve got three heads, I don’t want them thinking that Rand is crazy and that’s just exactly what they’ll think. I mean, why else would he act like that?

But that was later, first we had to actually get into the swap meet. They had to move it further away from the parking area so that they could enlarge the vendor area. And instead of a horseshoe shape or circle they now had aisles to walk up and down. I’m not sure I like it but it certainly let’s more folks set up booths in a certain amount of space. They put Bill and Missy’s place and Clyde’s trailer on the very outside since they generated so much business but folks still got all bunched up.

Austin went off to hang out with some of the boys – the father of the boy that was a scout master had promised to teach them to shoot a bow and arrow – in an area that had been specifically roped off away from the vendors and the fast food carts. There was also another roped off area and it was specifically for the little kids; that was next to an area that Pastor Ken had set up. The kids had organized games as well as free play while their parents could talk to Ken if they felt the need. Some of the men and women just came to watch the kids play. Ken had said that for most of the watchers it was a healthy way to deal with their grief … a lot of children and grandchildren had been lost to the flu.

Rand and I looked at the new way the vendor tables were set up and we decided to drift back to where Missy and Bill had their trailer set up. Missy called me behind their table and in the pretense of paying attention to Billy … not that I didn’t think he was a cut butterball … I handed off the pre-orders to her. “Do you know that I could have gotten two dozen orders for that lingerie already?”

I looked at her and then asked, “So what’s the rest of the story? It isn’t like you or Bill to turn down a deal.”

“I recognized the woman. She works for SueLinda. Profit or not I don’t want anything to do with her so called business. And even if she wasn’t into that kind of trade I’d pass on it, family sticks together.”

“Oh Missy,” I whispered. “I don’t want you and Bill to …”

“Don’t sweat it girl. It’s about family. Besides, how would it look if I was to start making money – even if it was indirect – off of that kind of trade? I can’t afford the hassle I would get from Momma O and Mrs. Withrow much less the rest of our female customers.” That made me smile. Missy really would have done it just because of family … but it didn’t hurt that her decision was reinforced by making it a good business decision.

“What’s in the other basket?” she asked me.

“Just some stuff to use for trade. If I can’t use it I’ll bring it back and see if you can use any of it here.”

Rand and I took off to look at the different tables but then he looked at me, “Do you … um … do you mind that we are hanging out together?”

I looked at him confused at first and then realized what he was trying to do. “Rand I like spending time with you. If you are with me because you want to be that’s good … but don’t feel that you have to if you want to go off and talk to the men.”

“Weeellllll … how about we walk through the next aisle and then I’ll take off over to there and you can … you know … do your thing.”

I smiled to let him know that it was a plan.

“Well if it isn’t the two love birds.”

The morning had been pretty good until she showed up. Rand was really angry really fast … about as fast as I’ve ever seen him get mad but I still managed to grab him before he popped off. I did something I don’t normally do and got up under his arm like he had it draped around my shoulders then leaned my head against him and said, “Brrr, where did that wind come from? Let’s move Honey, it smells kind of … odd. I don’t think where ever it is coming from is too healthy.”

Rand looked at me and scrunched his eye brows but after a second gave me a half smile and we kept walking, ignoring SueLinda. She didn’t like that at all but the older woman that was with her grabbed her arm and they changed directions and walked in the opposite direction we did. The first table I stopped at was a stationery booth. They had all sorts of paper, envelopes, writing tablets, pencils and erasers, and mechanical pens. But they also had quills, glass dip pens, and bamboo dip pens. Best of all they had inks, some store-bought but most of them looked homemade. It was like going Christmas shopping.

But they wanted what I thought was a whole lot for their inks … a whole lot. They were even trading in Sand Dollars which is how much they wanted for their wares. Besides, we had things that we needed and that ink was just a want. Momma O and her family were running a booth trading seeds and seedlings and were doing a brisk business. That wasn’t what I was after so I waved and kept going.

I passed booths trading tools, building materials, scrap metal bits and pieces like flashing (I wrote down who it was to tell Rand about it), block and tackle, fishing gear, then I caught up with Rand who was standing looking at a table full of feed samples. I touched him on the arm and he introduced me around and all the men were mannerly and tipped their hats if they had them, nodded their head if they didn’t.

“Babe, didn’t you say that you could make millet into flour or into a cereal?”

“Well … yeah. And you had millet cereal for breakfast the other day.”

The man behind the counter said, “I never heard of making flour out of it but me da’ told me of eating the stuff back during the Depression when they didn’t have nothing else ter eat. He wouldn’t touch the stuff for anything else but animal feed after that.”

I stuck close to Rand but felt forced to reply, “It is a bit like eating birdseed until you get used to it but I use millet flour to make the little wheat flour we have go further. You can do the same thing with soy beans – like those you have there – of course the flour they make doesn’t have any gluten in it but there are some people that can’t have gluten anyway.”

“Well then Missus Joiner, how do ye make the millet flour.”

“The easiest way is to toast the seeds in a skillet a little, cool them all the way, and then grind them. The longer you grind them the finer the flour. You can get it just about as fine as cornstarch if you have the arm for it. If I was making pastry dough I’d take the time to do that but since I just use it for bread I don’t both grinding it that fine.”

I heard one man say to another, “Have to tell the wife, she’s on me about needing flour every time I turn around and the wheat is dat blamed expensive.”

Another man with a two-year old strapped to his back in a carrier asked, “What about that cereal, can you feed it to little kids?”

“Sure, they eat the stuff in lots of places around the world. In a dry skillet toast about a half cup of whole millet seed. Put the toasted millet in a bag and then roll them with a rolling pin until they are ground as fine as you want them. In a saucepan bring one and a half cup of water to a boil and add the ground millet, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of ground nutmeg, and a half teaspoon of ground cardamom. Turn the heat down to simmer, cover and then simmer for fifteen minutes. If all of the water is absorbed before the cereal is tender then add a tablespoon or two of water at a time until you get the consistency that you want.”

The man was looking pretty desperate and said, “Could you write that down?”

I looked at Rand but he only grinned, “Um, I guess, sure.” I pulled out my handy dandy notepad and pencil – I never leave home without it – and copied it out like I had said it. After Rand and I drifted away I found out the man had lost his wife to the flu was raising the baby girl who was two, and two little boys who were five and six years old. There had been another little boy who would have been three but he died with his mother. The poor man has his hands full.

“He was seeing a woman from Columbia County, a friend of his wife’s who lost her husband around the same time he lost his wife, but she up and married a neighbor that didn’t have any kids. I guess she just didn’t want the responsibility of raising another woman’s set of children,” Rand whispered, explaining things to me. “He has a pretty decent place, just doesn’t have the time to develop it much because he has to take care of his little ones.”

I was chewing over that when we finally came to a vendor that I really needed to chat with. Here was the lady that was the spinner and weaver. It wasn’t cheap, it cost a couple of quarts of sorghum, but I came away with several spools of good cotton thread. I knew it was good because it required some strength to break the thread; cheap or loosely spun thread breaks and pulls apart real easy.

Rand kissed the top of my head and took off when he spotted a vendor that was looking to barter a bunch of old tools. Yep, just like my Daddy. I wandered on and then came to a vendor trading books. That’s when I realized that we still hadn’t done anything about schooling for Austin. He wasn’t doing too badly as one of the things that we liked to do at the end of the day was read a book chapter or two out loud. His reading and vocabulary was pretty good if I was any judge. He was learning science and agriculture from Rand. But I wasn’t sure what to do about math beyond the basics of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. He needed more than that but the only real school books I had were the highschool level ones that I took months ago out of the first house I salvaged. I added that to my list of wants and not needs … but it could turn into a need if I couldn’t figure out some way around the problem.

A few more vendor tables and I came to the table of the leathersmith. He was selling belts, hats, leather aprons, whips, and a bunch of other stuff. He also made stuff to order. But what really caught my eye were these moccasins. They weren’t just the foot part though, these ran up your legs sort of like boots and had laces that held it in place.

“Excuse me. Sir?”

“Oh … well hello there. You’re Rand Joiner’s wife aren’t you?”

“Yes sir. Um … could you put some kind of sole on those moccasins?"

"Oh aye, it’s the way I wear my own. These here are just samples I made a few years ago. I ran with the sutlers with the Mountain Man re-enactment events. You looking for something for Rand?”

“Actually we have a boy living with us … “

“That’d be Austin?”

“Oh … um … yes.”

“Had the boy staying with us a bit, glad to see he found a family. My sister wanted him, all she has is girls, she lives with us see but with the houseful we have … we just couldn’t offer him anything. You’d be better off letting me repair a pair of old lace up boots for him. The moccasins are great for hunting and staying around the house but with the field work he is doing with Rand he needs the ankle support and the sole to protect his feet. If you bring me a pair we can see what we can work out.”

I’m not stupid, the fact he wasn’t trying to sell me anything and tried to advise me whether he made anything on a deal or not makes him a good ‘un in my opinion. I told Rand later and he said that Mick and Tommy were in the same boat and frankly so was he. We decided to use the trade profit from the pre-orders that I gave to Missy and use it for work boots for Rand and Austin. They didn’t have their sizes today but Missy said she had a couple of pairs at the Shack that might fit, Rand and Austin will just have to go try them on. They are in pretty rough shape so we should be able to pick them up for cheap and then just have them fixed up properly and Rand said he knows the man needs his road from graded so they could probably make a barter for work rather than for goods.

I saw vendors who were selling veggies but nothing dried or anything like that. It made me feel that I still had a good idea about making sure we have enough dried veggies and fruits to barter with during the off season. I have a feeling the apples are going to do killer well but I don’t want to count my chickens before they are hatched.

And speaking of chickens there were two vendors there selling eggs and birds; one had chickens and the other had geese and ducks. My geese are big helpers in the garden, the chickens not so much. The chickens were pecking at everything. I guess they got use to me throwing them scraps and aren’t just interested in bugs but anything they can sink their beaks into. I have yet to have the geese pinch anything but bugs off of the plants. I keep the chickens to their run these days and let the geese into the fenced in garden … except one of them who is sitting her nest. Boy is she testy. I bent over the wrong way and man did I get a pinch.

It was about then that things started getting pretty crowded. I was getting really tired of being bumped around; I even got clipped in the stomach twice. I didn’t recognize one in ten of the people which told me that maybe it was time for me to scoot back to Missy and Bill’s trailer and wait out the rush. Instead Austin found me first along with Tommy. Neither boy looked happy. Mick, moving slower because he was surrounded by a gaggle of girls and looking so close to panic I nearly laughed out loud, brought up the rear.

“Kiri! Hi!” His eyes pleaded for some help so we stepped off to the side and I started talking to them – I recognized most of them from church – while Mick let Austin and Tommy drag him away as they suddenly lost the gloom on their face.

After they realized their captive had escaped the girls wandered off to find their parents since it was lunch time. Rand’s stomach is as reliable as any clock and his height helped him to find me even in the crowd. He had the boys with him and our picnic basket. “Let’s put the blanket out under the tree over there instead of eating in the wagon. I’ve already checked on Bud and Lou and they’re fine.”

Rand surprised us all by having some smoked catfish filets. “A fella owed me for some mowing I did for him. I figured I’d never see it but he stopped me and gave us this. Said that the road I mowed helped him to get his boat out where it kept getting hung up and now he fishes the river and smokes the fish he catches. Wait boys, let Kiri get a bite first.”

I like fish but I wasn’t sure why he wanted me to try it first. But when I took a small bite it was divine. I’d never had anything like it. “He smoked this batch with pecan wood. He also has some over there done with oak and maple.”

The filets melted when you ate them. It went perfect with the wilted salad (wilted on purpose with bacon grease), and hardboiled eggs that I had brought. For dessert I brought cookies since I figured that the boys would be around. There was also a ceramic jug of fresh milk to drink. The boys for their part contributed buttered bread and peach preserves and some summer sausage.

Our lunch nearly got trampled by a brawl but Rand jumped up and pushed them off in another direction before disaster struck and Mitch Peters had the two ijits under control not long after that. They’d passed a bottle back and forth just enough to both get stupid. There were a couple of other brawls and SueLinda was told to get her girls under control or leave since they alone had caused three of them by inciting the men to act foolish. She didn’t leave but she did send two of her girls off with that older lady I had seen her with earlier.

I was pretty tired by the time we finished but I was determined to hit all the vendors and I’m glad that I did. It was like walking through the sutler section of a reenactment event. There was a vendor devoted to women’s stuff. They worked the river so while the Shack no longer has a local monopoly on some of the lingerie items, this vendor didn’t do pre-orders or “to size” orders which was the niche that I filled. This vendor also sold bonnets, parasols, fans, snoods, and aprons and hair accessories like combs and hair pins.

Other vendors there included tables for candles, horse accessories (run by a Ferrier), rope, housewares, mops and brooms, sewing notions like leather thimbles and buttons, garden tools, and that didn’t even include the people offering to trade their services like blade sharpening, tailor/seamstress, and blacksmithing. I’d seen everything and was looking around for Rand when I spotted him. For about two seconds I thought of just waiting things out but the look on Rand’s face finally drove me to act.

Rand isn’t violent. He’s not passive by any stretch and I’ve seen him lose his temper and get in brawls all right, but more because it is a guy thing rather than a violent streak separate from that. And I’ve never seen him able yet to even push a woman out of his way much less anything more than that. But SueLinda was getting close to being the exception that proves the rule. The choices that Rand and I had made couldn’t all be laid at her door but she didn’t help and did play a role in the ruckus that occurred. And she was obviously up to her tricks again, though not the kind that most would think considering her current job description.

Rand was trying to ignore her so hard and SueLinda was so intent on her mischief making that neither one noticed me until I’d already swept SueLinda’s legs out from under her and she was sprawled on the ground, very red in the face. “You need to pump up that situational awareness thing SueLinda. The kind of trouble you are constantly trying to cause is going to make you some serious enemies.”

I walked around her – out of arms reach, I’m not that crazy – and stepped into Rand’s one-armed hug with a smile. “Hi,” I said using my best butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth expression.

Thank you God that Rand laughs when most other guys would have lost patience a long time ago. “Hi yourself. You ready to go?”

And we did, arm-in-arm leaving SueLinda to get to her feet and stomp away. Rand said quietly, “I love you. I wish … “

“You wish I hadn’t done anything about SueLinda?”

“No. I wish you hadn’t been put into the position in the first place. I managed to avoid her all day until just now. I wish I knew what her problem was.”

“Does it matter? Apparently there are some girls like that just like there are some guys. They can’t deal with the fact that someone got away, unimpressed by their whatever you want to call it.”

“Yeah, well, SueLinda isn’t a girl. She’s a grown woman and it is doggone embarrassing. Bad enough I made a fool of myself in college and then again a couple of weeks ago, I don’t want to see you get dragged into this.”

I realized then that really was his whole problem with it. She didn’t tempt him, she reminded him of how stupid he had felt the first time around and then how guilty he felt over what happened two weeks ago. Suddenly I didn’t feel threatened by her at all even if she is a real live beauty queen, smart, and worst of all tall and willowy. I laughed right out loud I felt so free. I got a strange look from Rand and some of the other folks that were being nosy but I didn’t care. I didn’t even mind looking silly because I had to have help to get into the back of the wagon, it was all good.

I kept that feeling all the way home and for the rest of the day after we got home. I’m sitting here now still feeling good while I write this in my journal and stuff my face with popcorn. Tomorrow is Sunday and I mostly plan on resting. There are always regular chores but I think tomorrow I’m going to sit down and --- blush --- look through Momma’s baby patterns. I might even crochet some lace if I feel up to it.

March 19th – Yawn, yawn, yawn. I’m tired and the only thing I’ve done today is eat. I’m even going to bed early.

March 20th – Rand is a stinker; a flat out stinker. And I could just kiss him for it.

We had a huge tree fall on the fence line. It wasn’t our tree but one from the property adjacent to us. When it fell … it just kind of keeled over because half of its root ball had died and shrunk … it took down several smaller trees in its way. Brendon and Ron showed up early this morning to help cut the trees back. Thing is Laurabeth was with them. I could tell that Rand hadn’t expected that but there wasn’t much he could say that wouldn’t make things worse.

While the guys went to go do the trees Laurabeth and I were left staring at each other. Then Stevie made a rude noise from the end that babies tend to make rude noises from.

Laurabeth sighed, “That’s a commentary on all the greens that I’ve been eating lately.”

I tried not to but I laughed before I could stop. Laurabeth and I had never been close but she had always been nice to me. After she had changed Stevie we sat down on the porch with Laurabeth rocking the baby and me trying to fix Rand’s sock for the hundredth time.

“Rand still wrecks his socks all to pieces I see.”

“Yeah. I’m thinking of sewing leather on the toe area and heel of all his socks.”

“Wouldn’t do any good; his toenails are like band saws. Daddy used to complain that you could always tell whose socks belonged to who; Rand’s were the ones with holes in the toes and Brendon’s were the ones that were always stretched out at the top where he was always pulling at them.”

Silence fell for a few moments. “Kiri?”

“Hmmm?” I asked while I snipped a piece of thread with my teeth.

“I’m … I’m sorry. Ron … he says … he says he’s sure you aren’t holding anything that I said against me but …”

She surprised me and it must have showed before I could get my blank face on. “Oh, it’s OK. I know I was pretty awful. I don’t … I don’t remember everything. There are great big empty spaces in my head. I … I don’t want to talk about what happened but … I do want to apologize for … you know … what people said that I said and … “

“Laurabeth, it’s all right. I spent a long time being … not nice to downright nasty after my family died. Not everyone deals with their grief like that and I hope that if I ever have to … though I pray that I never have to … go through something like that again that I don’t hurt other people just because I’m hurting so bad. So I understand. Thanks for apologizing, I just want you to know that you don’t have to.”

“Yes, yes I do, for my own peace of mind. I can’t leave stuff like that hanging out there, I’ve got enough to … oh God Kiri I miss Jonathon … and the baby … so bad there are days I just dread waking up.”

Well then she started crying and then I started crying and it took a while for us to both stop because every time one of us would the other continued and we’d start up crying all over again. But I don’t know, maybe we both needed to do some crying. I was tired afterwards but it was the kind of tried you get after you’ve emptied stuff out of yourself that it was time you unloaded. I wouldn’t say that Laurabeth and I are any closer than we were before but we both acknowledge that we share something, a depth of pain maybe, and it’s given us some insight into the other.

I’m relieved that she seems to be coming back from wherever she had retreated to in her spirit and told Rand so when they left after lunch – white beans with smoked ham hocks, cornbread, and stewed canned potatoes. “Brendon and Ron told me she was a lot better. I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. She still seems … fragile.”

“She is, but she’s more there in her mind than she’s been in a while. She may have setbacks but I think she is definitely moving forward.”

Then he and Austin took a load of the wood and I thought they had been taking it to Uncle George’s place only it turns out they weren’t . As a matter of fact some birdie or other had been whispering to Rand what vendors that I had been stopping and looking at. I suspect it was the boys but I don’t know for sure, Rand wouldn’t say. I guess he is worried that I think that he is checking up on me but I really don’t. And even if he was it’s not bothering me. So long as I know it isn’t me that he doesn’t trust then I’m kinda OK with him being protective.

When he came home Austin made himself scarce saying he was gonna go check on Fraidy’s kittens. I reminded him not to touch them but that he could pull some grass and take it up to Fraidy if he wanted to. I turned to go back inside to take the cornbread out of the oven and Rand followed me inside. He took the skillet out of the oven for me when I said it was ready and then told me to close my eyes.


“Just close your eyes.”

I thought he’d found an interesting rock or flower or something and was just playing so I smiled and closed my eyes. He told me to hold out my hands and he put something smooth and cold in my hand. I could tell it was a small jar but it was a funny shape.

He gave me a few moments to feel it and try and guess and then whispered, “Open your eyes.”

It was a jar of ink Before I could even pull a question together he pulled a wooden-handled carpet bag from behind his back and said, “Surprise.”

There were jars of colored inks and packets of ink powder and even a box of nibs for the dip pen I liked to use. “Wait! Where did this come from?”

“I traded the wood.”

“But … but Rand … I didn’t need this … and it … Rand the price … “

“It’s all right Babe. Don’t be upset. The man’s name is Kutchner. He was selling out and we worked a deal yesterday. He wanted to ride one of the passenger boats heading to Steinhatchee but they didn’t want to trade for his ink. What they did want was wood since their boat uses a steam engine. So I traded Kutchner wood for the ink and he traded the wood for passage down south.”

“Oh Rand.”

“There are some of those steno tablets you use out in the wagon in a box with some other odds and ends too.”

“But Rand, I … I didn’t need this. I’ve been doing just fine with the pecan shell ink.”

“I know, and we’ll keep using the homemade ink for everyday but now you have something nice to use in your journal. It seems to make you feel better when you can write.”

“It does but all of that work, cutting the trees out of the fence and into lengths, loading it into the wagon … “

“I wanted to. You do all that sewing and stuff so that we can get what we need from the Shack. You’ve never asked for anything yourself. This time I wanted to do something just for you.”

All I could do was say “Oh Rand” all over again. I’m going to save the colored ink; for what I don’t know, but I’m going to save it. Tomorrow I’m going to make up some of the powdered ink. It is going to feel funny writing in blue again.